Mechanisation of harvesting has changed the Australian olive oil industry

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The Australian olive industry has developed rapidly since the early 2000s and one of the biggest innovations has been the mechanization of harvesting.
Boundary Bend Victoria production manager, Ryan Norton, has spent the past 15 years helping to build Cobram Estate in to one of the nation’s largest olive oil producers.

He said the development of the Colossus harvesters has changed the Australian olive oil industry and means the fruit is processed more quickly, leading to a fresher oil.
“It was very small and just developing, back when we started you really couldn’t call it an industry,” he said.

“Spain and Italy and European countries generally harvest by hand or with shakers and we’ve developed, in conjunction with Argentina, the Colossus harvester which has allowed us to deliver fruit to the processor in its freshest state.

“We knew that we couldn’t harvest by hand, that we just weren’t going to be price competitive if we harvested by hand.”
First harvest fraught with breakdowns

The Colossus harvesters were originally built in Argentina from old coffee harvesters and Mr Norton said the machinery was originally far from perfect.
I think the first colossus harvester we harvested with we got around about six hours of effective picking time in 24 hours.

Mr Norton said adapting the harvesters was a collaborative effort with other staff and the founders of Boundary Bend.
He said making the harvesters viable was a challenge and incredibly frustrating at times, but it had been worth it.

“When we brought it [the Colossus harvester] back to Australia it took many hours of hard work,” he said.
“I think the first Colossus harvester we harvested with, we got around about six hours of effective picking time in 24 hours.

“Now 15 years later we are harvesting around 22 hours of effective picking time.
“We’re picking around about four to five tons an hour out of each harvester, which is significant when you look at a typical hand harvester, or person picking by hand can pick around about 250 kilos a day.

“It guarantees our consumer the freshest product, something that when harvesting by hand you can’t really guarantee.”
Mr. Norton has been recognized for his contribution to the olive oil industry with a nomination as a 2015 Farmer of the Year Award finalist.

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